If Melbourne justifies favouritism and wins the Australian National Rugby League Grand Final on Sunday then Cameron Smith is highly likely to go close to winning the Clive Churchill Medal awarded to the man of the match.
Melbourne is a champion team rather than a team of champions but the Storm do have superstars at fullback, halfback and hooker – arguably the three most important positions in a rugby league side. Cameron Munster has filled the shoes of Billy Slater brilliantly but the Melbourne fullback has yet to represent either his state of Queensland or his country of Australia and no uncapped player has received the Clive Churchill Medal in any of the last 30 seasons. Cooper Cronk is having another stellar year at halfback for Melbourne but he collected the Dally M Medal earlier this week and he took home the Clive Churchill Medal in 2012 – the selectors may look elsewhere even if he plays out of his skin again. That brings one to Smith, the Melbourne hooker and captain.
SkyBet are offering odds of +500 about Smith receiving the prize from Clive Churchill’s widow, Joyce, following the Australian National Rugby League premiership decider at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium and that strikes one as a reasonable bet, particularly if one fancies Melbourne to prevent Cronulla winning its first-ever title.
Smith has won pretty much every individual and team honour available in rugby league except the Clive Churchill Medal and, while the Melbourne skipper’s on-field behaviour is getting on the nerves of an increasing number of fans, he remains revered by the people who vote on awards. And rightly so because Smith is a rugby league legend.
One thinks that the Clive Churchill Medal case for Smith has been boosted by the Australian National Rugby League Grand Final build up that has focused on the Melbourne captain and his rivalry with Cronulla hooker Michael Ennis. Smith and Ennis are similar characters – gentlemen off the field but win-at-all-costs merchants on it – who have history in the State of Origin arena. Smith got the better of Ennis when the former was playing for Queensland against the latter’s New South Wales and one thinks that it will be a similar story when Melbourne tackles Cronulla. Adding to the story is that Ennis will retire from playing following the Australian National Rugby League Grand Final, although a lengthy career in the media will surely eventuate.
Smith versus Ennis is the main Australian National Rugby League Grand Final narrative, Smith may not get another chance to win the Clive Churchill Medal and every other Melbourne superstar, both past and present – Cronk, Greg Inglis, Brett Kimmorley and Slater – has received one. Rather than back Melbourne at odds on to lift its third legitimate Australian National Rugby League premiership, take a punt on Smith winning the Clive Churchill Medal.
Only three Australian National Rugby League Grand Final participants have collected the Clive Churchill Medal after playing on losing sides and two of those instances occurred in the early 1990s. Only two players have completed the Dally M Medal/Clive Churchill Medal double. And only one man, Bradley Clyde, has won more than one Clive Churchill Medal. One is not saying that Cronk cannot win but one thinks that Smith represents a much better investment.
Cameron Smith to Win the Clive Churchill Medal
Sunday 2nd October, 09:15 GMT